News your connection to The Boston Globe
Today's Globe  |   Latest News:   Local   Nation   World   |  NECN   Education   Obituaries   Special sections  

Edward Said, critic, scholar, Palestinian advocate; at 67

Edward W. Said, the Columbia University literary scholar who was perhaps the foremost advocate of the Palestinian cause in the United States, died yesterday at a New York hospital. He was 67.

In 1991, Dr. Said was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spent subsequent years undergoing chemotherapy and experimental treatments.

Dr. Said, a US citizen of Palestinian descent, became politicized after the Six Day War in 1967. A highly charismatic figure, he possessed striking looks, as well as an aristocratic bearing and suave manner. His combination of personal presence and forceful eloquence made him a prominent figure in the debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Commentary, a journal published by the American Jewish Committee, dubbed him "The Professor of Terror," and a 1999 article in its pages drew widespread notice with its allegations about discrepancies in Dr. Said's account of his upbringing.

Dr. Said was born in Jerusalem Nov. 1, 1935, and was primarily reared in Cairo and Lebanon. In dispute was how much time he and his family had spent in Jerusalem, and the extent to which Dr. Said may have tried to conceal the length of their residence there.

His parents, Wadie A. Said, a prosperous office-supply merchant, and Hilda (Musa) Said, took their children and left Jerusalem for good in 1947, shortly before the partition of Palestine.

In 2000, Dr. Said generated further controversy when he threw a rock at an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border.

Dr. Said served as a back-channel link between the White House and the Palestine Liberation Organization during the Carter administration and from 1977 to 1991 was a member of the Palestinian National Council.

He was for many years a close associate of Yasser Arafat (helping write, for example, the PLO leader's 1974 speech before the United Nations). He broke with Arafat over the PLO's signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Dr. Said advocated a single-state solution whereby Jews and Palestinians would live jointly in a nonsectarian nation.

Though Dr. Said was best known for his political work, he was also an eminent figure in the world of culture. He was chosen to deliver the prestigious Reith Lectures over the BBC in 1993 and was president of the Modern Language Association in 1999.

"Of all American [literary] critics," said Richard Poirier, president of the Library of America, in a 1999 Globe interview, Dr. Said "is certainly the most influential in anything touching upon the cultural criticism of literature."

Dr. Said's expertise extended to music. A talented pianist and for many years the music critic of The Nation magazine, he published extensively on the subject, including a collaboration with the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, "Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society."

A highly prolific writer, Dr. Said was a longtime columnist for Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books. He published some 20 books, the best known of which is "Orientalism" (1978), which revolutionized the study of Third World cultures in the West. "Orientalism" argues that Western scholars who studied "the Orient" (Dr. Said focused on the Middle East but his argument applies to all of Asia) were an essential part of Western domination of those cultures.

Dr. Said "basically initiated the cultural theory of post-colonialism," MIT's Philip S. Khoury, a past president of the Middle East Studies Association, said in 1999, "and has had enormous influence over two generations of scholars in a variety of humanistic disciplines."

Dr. Said's writings on the Middle East include "The Question of Palestine" (1979), "Covering Islam" (1981), "After the Last Sky" (1986), "The Politics of Dispossession" (1993), "Peace and Its Discontents" (1998), and "The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After" (2000). His works of literary and cultural criticism include "Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography" (1966), "Beginnings: Intention and Method" (1975), and "Culture and Imperialism" (1993).

Dr. Said also published a memoir, "Out of Place" (1999).

After attending what is now the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Dr. Said earned his bachelor's degree at Princeton and master's degree and doctorate at Harvard. He had been on the faculty of Columbia since 1963. He also served as a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins universities.

In a 1999 Globe interview, Dr. Said was asked whether he ever resented the time he devoted to politics at the expense of his literary work. "I've always felt that if someone was a person of privilege . . . the least you could do was help those who were not as fortunate as you. I've always thought that Palestine was a service . . . not something about political parties or positions or organizations, but rather an individual commitment. Which I don't regret at all."

Dr. Said leaves his wife, Mariam (Cortas); a son, Wadie, and daughter, Najla. A previous marriage ended in divorce.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months